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Suspect a stroke? Think FAST and call 911

May 08, 2017

You’re catching up with a friend over lunch at a favorite restaurant. In the middle of her retelling a funny story from the weekend, her speech begins to slur, and she’s no longer making sense. That’s when you notice that one side of her face appears to be drooping, especially evident in her smile when she tries to tell you she’s okay.

After a minute or so, the symptoms begin to subside.

Do you:

  1. Take your friend home, get her to rest and call her doctor if it happens again
  2. Breathe a sigh of relief that whatever just happened is clearly over and you can get on with your lunch.
  3. Err on the side of caution and call 9-1-1.

Answer: “Call 9-1-1…immediately,” said Megan Smith, RN, stroke coordinator at Soin Medical Center, one of five accredited stroke centers within the Kettering Health Network.

What is a stroke?

“A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, or there is bleeding in the brain. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die, resulting in the loss of the abilities controlled by that area of the brain -- such as muscle control and memory,” explained Smith.

Even in situations like the one described above, where symptoms appear to resolve on their own, medical attention should still be sought, as they could be warning signs of a future stroke. 

Strokes are no joke. Did you know...

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States

  • Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death
  • Someone has a stroke every 40 seconds
  • Someone dies of stroke every four minutes
  • Stroke is the leading cause of disability

These alarming facts are why it is critical to seek medical attention right away. Immediate medical treatment can minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and even prevent death.

“Calling 911 at the first sign of a stroke allows EMS to notify the hospital of the symptoms and activate the stroke team to expedite individualized care,” said Smith. “If someone presents early after the symptoms begin, time-sensitive medication or intervention may be available as treatment options. Early treatment saves lives and can reduce the effects of stroke.”

Warning signs of a stroke -- think FAST

  • Weakness, numbness or paralysis of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Difficulty walking, loss of balance or coordination
  • Problem with speaking, slurred speech, or inability to understand simple statements
  • Sudden severe headache, usually described as the worst headache of your life
  • Abrupt change in vision: blurry, double, dimming or visual loss

The acronym “F.A.S.T.” is especially helpful to remember the signs/symptoms of stroke:

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Can he/she do it? Are the words slurred?
  • Time: If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ time is of the essence. Call 9-1-1 immediately. Brain cells are dying.

Are you at an increased risk of stroke?

While a stroke can happen to anyone at any age, there are certain factors that can increase one’s risk of having a stroke:

  • Age - the risk of stroke is more common in adults over 65 years of age
  • Hypertension/high blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Previous transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Heart disease
  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Atrial fibrillation (AFIB)

Risk factors specifically associated with women include:

  • Migraines with aura
  • Birth control pills
  • History of preeclampsia
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH)
  • Lupus
  • Clotting disorders

Worried that you might be at risk for stroke? Click here to take Kettering Health Network’s “Stroke Risk Quiz.”

And remember, when it comes to strokes, every minute matters.